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Dynamic interplay of cell shape and tumour evolution


Project Description

Tumour cells are long known to appear in vastly diverse shapes, both across patients and within a single tumour. This is in stark contrast to the regularity of cell shapes of healthy epithelial tissues from which most tumours originate. However, regularity does not mean homogeneity: different types of cells in different parts of organs may also exhibit strongly varying cell shapes. Such shape variations assist pathologists in distinguishing healthy and cancerous tissue. Yet, little is known about the active role shape variations play during tumour evolution.

In this project, we will develop new mathematical and physical models to uncover how shape variations actively change cell behaviour and thus contribute to the evolutionary dynamics affecting disease progression and treatment response. We will then validate theoretical predictions with in vitro data relating cell shape to cellular behaviour for various kinds of cells. Specifically, we will compare healthy and cancerous cells. Moreover, we will investigate in vivo data of colorectal cancers of various stages (ranging from healthy tissue to advanced metastatic cancers) and infer causal relationships between genetically or environmentally driven shape alterations and cell behaviour.

Methods: The project may involve several of the following methods: Partial differential equations, differential geometry, asymptotic analysis, numerical simulations, agent based models, stochastic processes, image analysis, statistical analysis. Which methods are ultimately employed on this project will depend on the skills and interests of the successful candidate, and training on methods the candidate wishes to learn will be provided. The only essential requirement are strong academic performance (e.g. evidenced through an excellent 1st class degree in Mathematics, Theoretical Physics or related subjects), and motivation to work in an interdisciplinary environment.

Students will be co-supervised by Prof. Ian Tomlinson from the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, Dr. Hong Duong and Dr. John Meyer at the School of Mathematics.

Funding Notes

Funding may be available through a college or EPSRC scholarship in competition with all other PhD applications;
The scholarship will cover tuition fees, training support, and a stipend at standard rates for 3-3.5 years;
early application is strongly recommended;
The application procedure and deadlines are advertised at View Website
Strong UK/EU candidates are encouraged to make an informal inquiry though email to

For non-UK/non-EU candidates:
Strong self-funded applicants will be considered;
Exceptionally strong candidates in this category may be awarded a tuition fee waiver (for up to 3 years) in competition with all other PhD applications

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Mathematical Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 40.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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